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June 15, 2005

Hard Questions

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Whiskyprajer wonders why American animated films don't have the kind of emotional/imaginative weight that Hayao Miyazaki's films have.

* Is this the most amazingly-trained dog of all times?

* Are tan lines still considered sexy? (NSFW.)

* Is illegal immigration one of the reasons that so few American teens have jobs this summer? (Link thanks to Vdare.) Are Californians pleased to learn that immigrants are arriving in the state afflicted by a "multidrug-resistant" version of TB?

* Is this couple taking self-expression about as far as it can go? (Highly NSFW)

* Does science deserve special treatment -- ie., subsidizing -- by government? Is subsidizing science a way of endorsing something called "the scientific point of view"? And, if this is so, why shouldn't evangelical religious people object? After all, it's unconstitutional for our government to subsidize the religious point of view. Right Reason's Steve Burton (and a variety of smart commenters) give these questions a good shake.

* Should real men even think of wearing these thongs, er, things?

* James Kunstler visits Seattle, Google, and L.A., and wonders why none of them have got a clue.

* Could the advice many doctors give to lose weight be causing more harm than good?

* Would we be better off if we voted for the baby-faced candidate?



posted by Michael at June 15, 2005


Thanks for the link to Kunstler. I like reading his stuff even though he doesn't understand economics and worries about the wrong things. Also, the anti-automobile vehemence of many of his is astonishing. Before them lies a giant country full of diverse people living in different places with different needs and customs and living arrangements and individual preferences, all much too varied even to summarize easily, and these wannabe central planners always want to talk about how to "get people out of their cars." Because of course the planners only want what's best for society, even if the individual members of that society indicate by their behavior that they want something else.

Posted by: Jonathan on June 16, 2005 1:52 AM

Correction: "the anti-automobile vehemence of many of his commenters is astonishing."

Posted by: Jonathan on June 16, 2005 1:55 AM

We should definitely subsidize science, both by supporting research and teaching it. Science is the acquisition of knowledge about the world around us. It's in our societal interests to have the knowledge and the ensuing productivity gains.
Those productivity gains vastly outweigh forcing people to sit in 7th grade earth science and hear that clouds today might mean rain soon. If somebody thinks that's "the scientific point of view", well, they're right. If because of that they think it's equivilent to their rain dances, well, they're welcome to think that. I'll be busy finding my umbrella.

Posted by: ptm on June 16, 2005 11:29 AM

When we teach "Science", we are actually teaching two related things:

1) The scientific method: Observe, hypothesize, test, repeat.

2) The results of the scientific method (which most people think of as science).

Most (all?) of the basic science classes I've taken cover not only the current understanding but also the various historical understandings of the same issue. (For example, I was taught about the evolution of atomic theory from "indivisible", through "plum pudding" and "orbital" to "probabilistic".) This tends to teach that any current theory* is merely our best current understanding of the world. Truth is something to be asymptotically approached, not revealed in its eternal glory.

I think you have to stretch your definition farther than I am willing to stretch mine to conclude that testing hypotheses derived from observation is indistinguishable from religion. The hallmark of religion is faith; that of good science is scepticism. (This opposite mind set seems to be the direct cause for philosophical conflict). The subjects of the two need not especially intersect, though. On the other hand, when a religion makes a testable claim that is shown to be false (rare, these days), the conflict is inevitable. And there's a reason that, "What are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?", is funny.

In the specific case discussed on Right Reason, the subject was "Intelligent Design" (ID). To the extent that the proponents of ID raise interesting questions about evolution theory, what they are doing is scientific. When they postulate a mechanism that does not admit of falsification (how would you falsify ID?) and for which they do not suggest even a possible falsifying test, they are not doing science, they are committing philosophy.

As ptm noted above, we can point at specific, measurable, concrete accomplishments arising directly from science. These accomplishments have (I vehemently claim) dramatically increased the quality of life in our society. For that reason, if no other, science should be strongly supported.

Now, whether that support should come from government or private industry is an open question. Efficiency is not a noted hallmark of government programs, but there is a commons problem in basic research. Specifically, really speculative research is a scattershot, and very long-term, affair, making it difficult to privately fund.

My short answer? "Yes, science deserves 'special (different) treatment'."

* "Theory", as used by a scientist, isn't merely a speculation, it's the current best-fit approximation to all of the available experimental data. When that fit is shown to be poor, any new theory must fit all the current data at least as well as the old theory as well as explaining the problems. (As an example, Newtonian mechanics is a subset of relativistic mechanics specific to low velocities; as velocity approaches 0, the relativistic equations converge to the Newtonian equations.)

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on June 16, 2005 2:01 PM

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